Manufacturers Should Host Their Own Product Data 7037
Manufacturers Should Host Their Own Product Data

So far in this series of articles we have described what construction product data is, how it needs to be connected to standards, and how product comparison is a key example of how structuring your data is essential. Now we move on to the data itself – who owns it? Who should control it?

Don’t forget to sign up to the zoom call in a week’s time (link at the foot of this post).

Product Data is an Asset

In 2006, Clive Humby, the mathematician who made a fortune helping Tesco develop its new Clubcard, said “Data is the New Oil”. Humby was talking about how data needs to be refined to be valuable, but the phrase has been used by many since, including by Brittany Kaiser, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. In 2017, data surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable resource. Your data has become an asset.

Construction product data, the information about your products: what they are like, how they perform and comply, what they cost, what is available and more, is also an asset of huge value, not least to manufacturers themselves, but also to everyone in the supply chain.

The physical assets of your stock, materials, buildings and equipment are matched by the digital assets of your data, not just about your products but where they are, how they are used and who by.

  1. Data has a value to the manufacturer – it can help you provide the right product for the right job, manage risk, reduce returns and waste, and decrease calls to your Technical Support.
  2. Data also has a value to the users of your products - by bringing internal process health and functional benefits, so suppliers, vendors, designers, contractors and asset owners can work collaboratively with a single, reliable source of information.

Product data is a valuable asset.

People are Competing to Control your Product Data

The asset value of data may have escaped your notice, but it hasn’t escaped the notice of others. Last time we talked about product comparison as just one example of how information about products is hugely important to designers to help them do their job. The same applies to distributors, quantity surveyors, fire consultants, main contractors, installers – the list goes on. Everyone needs reliable information about your products.

This market for data has fueled the development of a large number of organisations whose business model is managing your data in order to make it available to these other actors in the supply chain. Traditionally these companies offered this information via print product catalogues, then software platforms and now cloud based services. Making data available also applies to marketing, and media companies are also part of this system.

As we saw in the last article, over the years a complex web of disconnected data services or platforms has grown up, all of whom manufacturers traditionally pay to supply data, in exchange for the promise that it can be seen by the right people.

As the built environment and its needs more complex and demands more stringent, new services are springing up which promise access to those ‘right people’, a one stop shop for distributors, or architects, or whoever.

Whoever controls your data and can collect the information about how it is used, controls the asset and can make you pay to manage it.

Risks of Using Third Party Data Services to Host Your Data

If you choose a third-party service to manage and control your product data separately from your own data systems, there are a number of potential risks.

  1. Walled Gardens – if the information you provide is not updated in real time against the information in your own systems (as happens with traditional catalogues or digital versions of them), the user does not have confidence in its accuracy. This was one of the problems with the development of ‘BIM Objects’ we described in article 2.
  2. Limited Understanding and a Narrow View – if the service provider manages their data needs based on a particular audience (distributors of electrical equipment, for example) they may not be aware of the data needs of those further up and down the supply chain (installers, FMs or users, for example will have other needs and will only view a portion of the data).
  3. Non-Interoperable – if the data framework is not compliant with data standards (like ISO 23386 and 23387 as described in article 3), then the connection between the data through the supply chain cannot be maintained, and you have another walled garden.
  4. Disproportionate Cost – if the service provider operates under the old pricing models, charging you for populating the space rather than using an API, or providing promotional services which restrict genuine comparison, or even charging for the use of images, then the costs will become prohibitive and data sets will be partial as manufacturers cannot efficiently service all the platforms.

In 2017 Construction Products Europe analysed the third party data services supporting European product companies and concluded there were 400 different services in operation. If a manufacturer has to pay for their data to be managed and integrated in different ways by even a small portion of these, the costs can become prohibitive, and no service will be comprehensive, even for their own niche of product types.

However, if manufacturers can provide their data in a structured, interoperable way to any service of their choosing, then there should be no additional cost to the manufacturer in supplying various different services.

Paying for API Integrations – some data services will have a business model that charges product manufacturers to integrate their data into the data service API, by charging them for consultancy. But if a manufacturer pays to provide their data to a service according to harmonized standards, integration should be the responsibility of the data service. If you have a smartphone, after you have purchased the app, it is the App owner who pays for the cost of updating their apps on your smartphone and the update works for all users without them being charged extra.

All these above challenges also produce a risk of inflated costs with no return on investment when the data becomes, in effect, dead and useless. Meanwhile, the emergence of new players and the adaptation of old players into this data market creates a potential money sink for manufacturers that is completely unnecessary.

Control your Data: Control your Risk

If as a manufacturer you can own and control your own interoperable and machine readable data model, several things happen.

  1. Each actor in the supply chain can choose what subset of the data it needs, via a Data Template system as set out in article 2. 
  2. You can provide data to third parties (such as a distributor or media company) who can publish it to others, while you only pay for the display, keeping control of the source data. If you provide the information via an API and the publisher provides the integration, this process can be automated to connect with your own systems in real time, removing waste and reducing errors to a minimum.
  3. These third party publishers can compete for your data by offering other meta data, for example information on what products are most seen, what attributes are most compared, and information about the audience relationship with your products.
  4. If the publisher is monetizing on your data by collecting this meta data, for example, they should pay you a commission.
  5. Because you own the data, you can secure it and keep it verified and interoperable, demonstrating your credibility by providing a direct link back to your maintenance instructions, conformity certificates and information about lead times or replacement products, for example.
  6. The ‘Golden Thread’ concept and the imminent arrival of a Building Safety Regulator who will require building owners/operators to evidence safe construction will require a much more joined up process. Owning and controlling your own interoperable and machine readable data model will place your company is a good position to respond to this need.


How to Manage your Own Product Data

Managing your own product data may seem like a daunting prospect, but remember, you already have this information – all you need to do is structure it.

There is a movement to encourage manufacturers who already own the data to be able to provide it themselves directly (for example directly via your core data and information management systems and an API) rather than through third party ‘walled gardens.’

It would be worth having a discussion within your company about how you plan to provide product information in this context, as a way of informing short- and long-term strategies for investing in platform hosting of all sorts.

Have a data and information strategy in place for your business. Work towards having your own logical data model. Agree what type of information is to be provided to whom and how. Think about how best you can monetise your data and make sure the third party services you use will support this strategy.

Make sure you involve your senior information, operations, technical, sales and marketing staff. To benefit from structuring your product data, you need to get all their perspectives, as they will all be using parts of the same system.

Share Your Views

Over the coming months we will be sharing a number of articles investigating how construction product manufacturers can solve the problem of product data management. Then later in the year we’ll be publishing a Plain Language Guide to Product Data, written specifically for the CEOs of manufacturing companies. If you’d like to know more about this project, please subscribe to this blog using the link below and we’ll notify you as new items are published.

In the meantime, we want to encourage as much debate about the challenges as possible.

  1. Please comment below with your views and share this article with the #ManufacturersPLG hashtag.
  2. You can also join the conversation on the 'ask the community' IET forum channel: Plain Language Guide to Product Data for Manufacturers
  3. We’re also hosting an Open Zoom Call next Friday to discuss this article. If you’d like to join us, please Register to join us on Friday 23 October at 11am-12 noon. The Zoom Call will be recorded and made available afterwards.

We look forward to hearing your views.

When the call video is published it will appear below:


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